The activism of Black women on campus to foster community and create a culture of inspiration for future Black students
C/O Bethel Samson and Malikca Lawrence
To feel like you belong here has always been a luxury for some.
This might be hard to believe, as with a couple of searches on Instagram it does not take long for a Marauder to discover at least one club, organization, or activity they may wish to affiliate themselves with. However, much of the accessibility that we often take for granted in our digital age did not come without the efforts championed by those who were the most excluded in the first place.
Student-led organizations on campus, when properly acknowledged and given the resources, serve as valuable hubs for networking opportunities, academic and professional guidance and social interactions. While such goals may be the intentions of allowing students to congregate like this, unfortunately, this is historically not reflective of the experiences of Black students at McMaster.
Consequently, there continues to be a need for Black students to have access to the same caliber of resources as their peers. These must be initiatives which are institutionally afforded, that acknowledge and take into consideration the unique cultural positionalities of Black students and Black students with intersectional identities.
Fortunately, there are already two students working to create, secure and maintain concrete spaces for Black students at McMaster even after they graduate.
Recognizing the lack of diversity in her program, Bethel Samson is a fourth-year health sciences student who decided to take action and address these concerns.
“When I walked into my cell biology course as a first-year health sci, the first thing I noticed was the lack of Black students. Considering [that] my cohort, like others, will go on to impact the future of healthcare, it was vital to me that there be students who represent Canada’s diversity,” said Samson.
The lack of representation in McMaster’s health sciences program prompted Samson to create the Black BHSc Association in collaboration with her peers in 2020. Serving as a co-founder and events coordinator, Samson and co-leaders of the BBA advocated to create equitable admissions for Black applications within the health sciences program with the goal of increasing the acceptance of Black students.
Samson’s work within the BBA successfully crafted an application stream into the health sciences program for Black students only, named the Equitable Admissions for Black Applicants. EABA provides a process where applications would be reviewed by an all-Black admissions committee. Having successfully been implemented within the 2021 application cycle, this initiative has worked to increase the number of Black students within the class of 2025.
Aside from her extensive involvement in the BBA, Samson has regularly volunteered as a peer supporter to marginalized students for McMaster Students Union’s Women and Gender Equity Network and continues to extend her events experience within WGEN as an events co-coordinator.
Samson is currently completing a thesis with the department of Psychiatry and Neurosciences on first episode psychosis and cannabis use disorder among racialized youth. She hopes to explore how Black youth can hold conversations around this culturally sensitive topic with loved ones and get the empathy and proper care they need. Aspiring to work in healthcare, Samson intends to address the neglect Black communities face within the healthcare system.
“I want to continue to grow our resiliency as a community. I want a future where if a Black patient comes in, they feel comfortable first and foremost. I hope in the future, Black first-years do not have to go through the feelings of isolation and feeling like their behaviors are overly observed like I had to,” explained Samson.
Samson hopes for the continued diversification of Mac’s student body to include the voices of more Black students in all facets of McMaster.
Malikca Lawrence is a second-year arts and science student also heavily involved in activism for Black students on campus.
“My first year was entirely online. I didn’t know anybody [or] any clubs and had no way of making connections that allowed me to feel a part of the Mac community. But then this year, I discovered a whole host of Black clubs I didn’t even know existed and I immediately felt a sense of community,” said Lawrence.
To empower first- and second-year students such as herself who share similar feelings of alienation upon returning to campus in person, Lawrence decided to work as a vice president events for Blackspace, a club for Black women and non-binary folks to connect, collaborate and uplift one another.
An avid reader who spent much of her time volunteering and working with libraries in her hometown, Lawrence brings her passion for books to facilitate a book club within Blackspace where students can connect through the literary works of Black authors.
Lawrence also extends her desire to create community by working with the Black Student Association, a hub for Black students to connect to professional and academic resources and opportunities.
Of Jamaican descent, Lawrence stays connected to her Caribbean cultural roots by outreaching on behalf of McMaster Association of West Indian Students. She is responsible for booking spaces and reaching out to other Black organizations for MACAWS events.
Notably, Lawrence is extensively involved with a new tiered initiative titled the Black Student Mentorship Program. The organization serves as a portal to connect Black students seeking guidance with a Black mentor, be it undergraduate students connecting with grad students or grad students looking to connect with professors.
Lawrence expressed how as a Black woman, she has often observed Black students and their lived experiences being overlooked in academia, a vicious cycle which marks the start of countless systemic cultural and academic barriers Black students will go on to face within their academic careers. It is of the utmost importance to her to offer a wide range of options for Black students to be able to choose the direction of their academic, professional and social growth.
“Talking to past students who never had these clubs, we created these spaces because we felt isolated. I hope to continue the work people before me have started and I see myself as one day being president of one of these initiatives that I am a part of and perhaps even start something new. It’s all about catering to what is lacking in the community,” explained Lawrence.
Looking forward to being involved in healthcare and working with Black folks, Lawrence hopes to continue to study how the past of the Black diaspora continues to shape the current Black experience.